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Weather Starter: Plains Cooking as Corn Belt Dust Flies

Jeff Caldwell 05/19/2014 @ 9:36am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

The week is starting out with more seasonable temperatures, just a few shots of showers in the Corn Belt, and the likelihood of scorching heat with spotty light rain in the parched central and southern Plains, where the hard red winter wheat crop is in some spots in as dire shape as it's been in decades.

Rain is expected in the southwest Plains this week. While that's a welcome prospect, it's likely too little, too late for that region's wheat crop, says MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney.

"Showers are expected to finally return to the southwestern Plains later this week, which will begin to improve moisture a bit," he says. "However, amounts are expected to be too light to significantly reduce long-term drought. Also, the rains will be too late to improve yields for winter wheat in most areas. More notable rains should build across the Plains and southwestern Midwest in the 6-10 day period, and the rains will further improve moisture supplies, especially in the south-central Plains."

The potential rainfall is something of an anomaly for the region, adds Harvey Freese of Freese-Notis Weather, Inc. "A much different weather pattern seems to be developing for the southern Plains than what we've seen over the past few years. There is the potential for heavy rainfall amounts from the Texas panhandle northward into the Oklahoma panhandle. Not everyone is going to get good rains, but the weather pattern looks more favorable for rain than we have seen for years in this region," he says, adding the wetter pattern could continue as long as the next three months.

That rain won't do anything to help wheat farmers like Agriculture.com Marketing Talk frequent contributor M-Farmer2287, who says crop insurance will likely comprise the vast majority of his crop income this year.

"Dead heads almost 50% to green heads now. Some heads are turning white or an off-green color," he says of his wheat crop's condition. "Should have hayed it, but had hopes two weeks ago. Hoped for 15 bushels/acre, now 4 to 10."

The drought has some farmers in the Plains pondering how to handle the remainder of the crop year. With little to no moisture at all, the likelihood of anything near a manageable yield -- even for the most drought-hardy crops like sorghum -- is extremely low, making for some tough decisions to come, namely whether to plant and whether to plan on what is planted making any grain.

"If it starts raining, maybe 2015 crops will have a chance. Have you ever farmed where you've got 0 topsoil moisture and 0 subsoil moisture? I'm not exaggerating, we haven't got any moisture going down to the 4- to 5-foot depth," says Crop Talk veteran adviser Shaggy98, who farms in central Kansas. "Do you really think anything will germinate? Keep in mind we've been battling this for going on four years with no relief in sight."

Meanwhile, in the Corn Belt, more seasonal temperatures are expected through this week, allowing another week of rapid corn and soybean planting in what's become a stop-and-go planting season. Though corn planting could see its completion this week, many expect only baby steps of progress from last week -- after a week of cool, wet conditions -- when USDA releases its Crop Progress report Monday afternoon.

"I think corn emergence will fall further behind in the USDA Crop Progress report released this afternoon," says Kluis Commodities broker and market analyst Al Kluis. "What I am watching: The extended weather forecasts, which suggest we will get some rain across the northern Corn Belt early this week, then back to normal temperatures with no precipitation over the Memorial Day weekend."

Adds Marketing Talk adviser jennys_mn: "In southern Minnesota, I think every tractor available was in the fields. Lots of dust . . . finally," she says of the planting progress during the weekend. "The extended forecasts are still showing the above-normal precipitation, but the maps to me look dryer than that. There is just nothing out there that will stop planting progress for very long."

Even though planting progress will likely see major strides this week, Freese agrees with Kluis: Early crop development is starting to overtake planting progress in its importance to ultimate crop output.

"Warm weather this week should help to speed up planting of corn and soybeans. Warmer weather should help to encourage early vegetative growth and help the corn pop out of the ground," he says.

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